Corrie Ten Boom was imprisoned, along with her two sisters (Betsie and Nollie), her brother (Willem), and her father for having hidden Jews in their home during World War II. Her father died ten days after the arrest, and Nollie and Willem were released from prison shortly after their arrest.
Betsie died much later after she and Corrie had spent some time in a concentration camp. Corrie was finally released because of a clerical error.
Two years after the war ended, Corrie had just finished speaking at a meeting in Munich when she saw one of the guards from the concentration camp where she and her sister had been held. Immediately, her mind flooded back to an image of her sister Betsie walking past this man, stripped of her clothes and dignity. Now the same guard was approaching Corrie.
“A fine message, Fraulein!” he said, “How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea.”
Corrie had just spoken on the topic of forgiveness, but rather than taking the man’s hand, she fumbled with her pocketbook.
The guard informed her that he had been a guard at Ravensbrüc and added “But since that time I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there. But I would like to hear it from your lips as well.”
Again, his hand came out, “Fraulein, will you forgive me?”
Corrie writes, “I stood there – I whose sins had every day to be forgiven – and I could not. Betsie had died in that place. Could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?”
As Corrie stood there, she pondered a difficult choice. She knew in her heart that there was no question of not forgiving. For she understood that “the message that God forgives has a prior condition that we forgive those who have injured us.” In fact, she had just spoken on the necessity of forgiveness, the need to forgive as God has forgiven us in Christ.
And still, says Corrie, “I stood there with coldness clutching my heart.” Emotionally frozen, Corrie reasoned that “forgiveness in not an emotion.” Instead, she reminded herself that forgiveness “is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”
She prayed silently, “Jesus help me! I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling…And so woodenly, mechanically, I stretched my hand out to his stretched out hand to me.”
Just at that time something amazing happened. “The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands, and then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.”
Corrie cried out, “I forgive you my brother, with all of my heart!”
“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I have never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.”
As has been said, “Christian love is decisive love. And that often means loving when you don’t feel like doing so.”